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Sun, Nov 21, 2021

LA City Council Votes on Airport Closure

More Political Nonsense: Whiteman Airport to be Swapped for 184 Acres of Chain Restaurants, Strip Malls, and Premium Housing?

Whiteman Airport, nestled in the heart of the San Fernando Valley of California, is facing its end after a unanimous vote from the Los Angeles city council. A petition has begun in the local area in the hopes that their decision could be forestalled, but like many victims of creeping urban sprawl, the chances are not good that it will remain. 

The airport is located on what has over time become a rare open space in the area. Originally made as a small farmer's air park in 1946 outside of Los Angeles, the surrounding region has become increasingly urbanized with the explosive growth of the state. In the 70's the airport changed hands to the County of Los Angeles, eventually growing into a well-equipped, lit, paved runway capable of serving turboprop aircraft on its 4,100 foot runway. Like many areas in the west, a once sparse, peaceful location has become congested with new development, suburban projects, and chain restaurants who see the wide open airport space as wasted acreage. 

The LA City Council's 15 members unanimously approved plans to close the airport and open its 184 acres of prime real estate to development, replacing its public utility and job creation with whatever the highest bidder decides. The change is billed as a safety measure for the city, with the airport's runway described as "substandard" by council personnel. A crash in November of 2020 gave the necessary political fuel needed, according to the local paper, the San Fernando Sun. In January of 2021, they described the council's reaction to the accident thusly: 

"To the credit of the area representative, LA City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez immediately called for the closure of a 75-year-old municipal airport that serves 600 private individuals and provides no ascertainable benefit to the local largely Latino community. Rodriguez went on further in her public statements and legislation to challenge all of us to think bigger and see the airport as an opportunity to bring equity, environmental justice, economic investment, and housing to Pacoima."

They myopically described the airport as a blight, saying it monopolized the "most developable piece of property in the San Fernando Valley". The paper believes the land "could be a beating heart for Pacoima residents to live, work, exercise, and enjoy their community, Instead, for nearly 80 years private planes have passed over these Angelenos, dusting them with toxic air and pollution and reminding them that this airport is not for them."

Like many airport shutdowns, the legal wrangling takes years, and multiple reversals and cancellations are somewhat common. Santa Monica, in a similar situation, ended their battle with an agreement to shutter the facility in 2028. If the county manages to re-assign the land, the deconstruction, demolition, environmental studies, and parceling will take years before any tangible benefit arises for local residents. While many seem to believe a utopian, multi-use live/work zone can be created out of Whiteman's ruins, money speaks louder to developers, and all parties involved should brace for disappointment. 



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